The Washington Nationals' 2013 season may well not end up the way so many people predict. Their success may not be as rousing or as prolonged.
They may even lose a game or two.
But in their season-opening series against the inferior Miami Marlins, the Nationals showed not a single hint that any of those outcomes were a possibility. In beating the Marlins 6-1 on Thursday, the Nationals completed their first sweep in a season they hope will be filled with them.
"Every game's a big game, and we've had trouble with the Marlins no matter what," said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. "No matter what they put out there, we've had trouble with them. So it was good to spank them this series."
Over the course of three games that featured chilly temperatures and averaged just two hours and 25 minutes, the Nationals displayed almost all of the qualities that made them such a preseason favorite.
Their pitching staff allowed one run in 27 innings. They clubbed four homers over the course of the three games, including a three-run shot that went 434 feet by Jayson Werth to blow open Thursday's game. They rapped out 20 total hits and tallied 11 runs.
They showed just how wide a margin there could be this season between the top of the National League East, and the bottom.
"The Marlins, they're in a little bit of a rebuilding [stage]," Werth said. "You want to get off to a good start and I think we did that. The pitching was good, offense showed up today. We'll head to Cincinnati and that'll be a pretty good test for us, but it's early."
Yes, the future likely holds more of a challenge.
"That's one of the other best teams in the National League," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who was 3 for 3 with a walk and two RBI, said of the Reds. "It's early, but it's one of those series where you go in and you know it's going to be a tough series."
The dichotomy between what the Marlins brought to Nationals Park this week and what the Nationals will face this weekend in Cincinnati is stark.
Against a Marlins lineup that features few fearsome hitters around Giancarlo Stanton, the Nationals cruised. How they fare against a Reds team that just took two of three from the loaded Los Angeles Angels, and that has Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier smack in the middle of its lineup, will probably be a more true test.
For now, they were satisfied.
Jordan Zimmermann allowed just one run over six innings. He gave up eight hits, struck out one and walked two. Justin Ruggiano's homer, a first-pitch fastball, was his only true blemish.
The Nationals gave him a two-run lead to work with on a double by Zimmerman in the first inning, scoring Werth and Bryce Harper. Harper, who took an elbow to the face from catcher Rob Brantly when scoring in the first, helped them add to that lead with an RBI single in the third.
Acutely aware that Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez had led the Nationals pitchers in 18 scoreless innings to open the season, Zimmermann wanted to keep the streak going.
"I was thinking it'd be nice if I could put up six, seven innings, no runs," Zimmermann said. "But, second inning, that kind of fell apart. ... Obviously those guys pitched great games and I wanted to try and match what they did or try and do a little better. I'll take six innings and one run."
The Nationals allowed just one runner to reach third base all day, outside of Ruggiano's homer, and have allowed the fewest runs of any team this season. And their starter was playfully chastising himself for being unable to carry on the tradition set by the two before him.
"Every day's going to be a test," Johnson said. "But I like the talent and I like the way they approach their job. It's good to get off to a good homestand before we go on the road. Cincinnati came from behind a couple times, won a couple ballgames against a good club. Should be fun."
They packed up the clubhouse at Nationals Park for the first time this season and set out on the road.
Maybe the challenge ahead will be tougher. Maybe it'll just look tougher. For the time being, the Nationals are the first team in the major leagues to three wins, and they look to be every bit the monster many predicted.
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